Equitable Assignment: Everything You Need to Know

An equitable assignment is one that does not fulfill the statutory criteria for a legal assignment, but is binding and upheld by the courts in the interest of equability, justice, and fairness. 3 min read updated on February 01, 2023

An equitable assignment is one that does not fulfill the statutory criteria for a legal assignment, but is binding and upheld by the courts in the interest of equability, justice, and fairness.

Equitable Assignment

An equitable assignment may not appear to be self-evident by the law's standard, but it presents the assignee with a title that is protected and recognized in equity. It's based on the essence of a declaration of trust; specifically, essential fairness and natural justice. As long as there is valuable consideration involved, it does not matter if a formal agreement is signed. There needs to be some sort of intent displayed from one party to assign and the other party to receive.

The evaluation of a righteous equitable assignment is completed by determining if a debtor would rationally pay the debt to another party alleging to be the assignee. Equitable assignments can be created by:

  • The assignor informing the assignee that they transferred a right to them
  • The assignor instructing the other party to release their obligation from the assignee and place it instead on the assignor

The only part of an agreement that can be assigned is the benefit. Generally speaking, there is no prerequisite for the written notice to be received or given. The significant characteristic that separates an equitable assignment from a legal assignment is that most of the time, an equitable assignee may not take action against a third party. Instead, it must rely on the guidelines governing equitable assignments. In other words, the equitable assignee must team up with the assignor to take action.

The Doctrine of Equitable Assignment in Wisconsin

In Dow Family LLC v. PHH Mortgage Corp ., the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued in favor of the doctrine of equitable assignment. The case was similar to many other foreclosure cases, except this one came with a twist. Essentially, Dow Family LLC purchased a property and the property owner insisted the mortgage on the property had been paid off. However, in actuality, it wasn't. 

Prior to the sale, the mortgage on the property was with PHH Mortgage Corp. When PHH went to foreclose on the mortgage, Dow Family LLC contested it. There was one specific rebuttal that caught the attention of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The official mortgage on record was with MERS, an appointee for the original lender, U.S. Bank.

Dow argued that PHH couldn't foreclose on the property because the true owner was MERS. Essentially, Dow was stating that the mortgage was never assigned to PHH. Based on this argument, PHH utilized the doctrine of equitable assignment.

Based on a case from 1859, Croft v. Bunster, the court determined that the security for a note is equitably assigned when the note is assigned without a need for an independent, written assignment. Additionally, Dow contended that the statute of frauds prohibits the utilization of the doctrine, mainly because it claimed every assignment on a property must be formally recorded.

During the case, Dow argued that the MERS system, which stored the data regarding the mortgage, was fundamentally flawed. According to the court, the statute of frauds was satisfied because the equitable assignment was in accordance with the operation of law. Most importantly, the court avoided all consideration regarding the MERS system, concluding it was not significant in their decision. 

The outcome was a major win for lenders, as they were relying on the doctrine specifically for these types of circumstances.

Most experts agree that this outcome makes sense in the current mortgage-lending environment. This is due to the fact that it is still quite common for mortgages to be bundled up into mortgage-backed securities and sold on the secondary market.

Many economists claim that by not requiring mortgages to be recorded each time a transfer is completed, the loans are more easily marketed to investors. Additionally, debtors know who their current mortgage company is because the new lender must always notify the current borrower in order to receive payment. It was determined that recording and documenting the mortgage merely provides a signal to the rest of the world that the property owner secures a debt.

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What Is an Equitable Assignment?

An equitable assignment is a transfer of future interest that doesn’t fully meet legal standards, but will still be honored by courts. This is an example of a situation covered by equity, or fairness, rather than specific legal doctrine. Courts will enforce such agreements when they are not covered by existing laws, as long as they appear reasonable, fair, and without coercion. The standards for an equitable assignment to pass court scrutiny can depend on the region and the situation.

In such assignments, people can reassign future income in several different ways. One option can be to transfer interest, like part of a trust, to another person; the trust is guaranteed income, but the assignor waives the right to it, allowing the assignee to benefit from it. Another way to perform an equitable assignment is to have third parties transfer anticipated payments to the assignee. In all cases, the transfer involves future income or benefits, not current ones.

Expectations do not count as an equitable assignment. If a child believes she will inherit her father’s house, for example, she cannot transfer her interest in the house to another party. This is because the inheritance is an expectation, not a guarantee. In the event she does not inherit the house, the person she transferred the interest to has no recourse. Thus, someone cannot ask to have a debt written off in exchange for a future expectation.

Due consideration also needs to be part of an equitable assignment transaction to prevent fraud and ensure a transaction is legitimate. In the example of assigning rights to a trust, for instance, the assignor would need to receive something in exchange. That might be a bulk payment to buy the right to proceeds from the trust later. If due consideration is not present, the court may not uphold the agreement, on the grounds that it could be suspect. A special concern can be attempts to transfer rights to future earnings for the purpose of avoiding tax liability, in which case the assignee might be planning to transfer the funds back or allow the assignor to use them.

Specific legal standards for equitable assignments can depend on the nation. People with concerns can consult an attorney for advice in these situations. Attorneys with expertise in this area are familiar with actions in equity courts and can determine whether a transaction is likely to hold up in court.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.



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Equitable assignment

Practical law uk glossary 2-107-6540  (approx. 3 pages).

  • The assignor can inform the assignee that he transfers a right or rights to him.
  • The assignor can instruct the other party or parties to the agreement to discharge their obligation to the assignee instead of the assignor.
  • General Contract and Boilerplate
  • Breach of Lease Covenants
  • Security and Quasi Security

equitable assignment trust

Equitable assignment

Practical law uk glossary 2-107-6540  (approx. 3 pages).

  • The assignor can inform the assignee that he transfers a right or rights to him.
  • The assignor can instruct the other party or parties to the agreement to discharge their obligation to the assignee instead of the assignor.
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Understanding Equitable Estoppel: From Metaphors to Better Laws

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Ben McFarlane, Understanding Equitable Estoppel: From Metaphors to Better Laws, Current Legal Problems , Volume 66, Issue 1, 2013, Pages 267–305, https://doi.org/10.1093/clp/cut012

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This article has both a specific and a broader aim. First, it examines the law of promissory estoppel and of proprietary estoppel and considers if the doctrines can best be understood as part of a unified equitable estoppel. It will be argued that each of the two doctrines is itself composed of irreducibly dissimilar principles. The key to understanding the doctrines, therefore, is to identify and isolate these specific principles, not to merge them into an undifferentiated notion of equitable estoppel. Secondly, the article asks what an examination of equitable estoppel can tell us about the wider question of the nature of equitable principles and their place within a modern legal system. It will be argued that it is a mistake to view doctrines such as equitable estoppel as merely variants of their common law analogues. Rather, the adjective equitable stands as a warning that the noun to which it relates is used only in a metaphorical sense, and it is therefore dangerous to assume that the equitable principle must have even the same basic features as its common law namesake.

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Equitable Assignment: The question is how the parties viewed the transaction not how the transaction was recorded

Business Finance Pty Ltd (receiver and manager appointed) v Partner Invest Pty Ltd (in liquidation) [2022] NSWSC 1 was a dispute between the external administrators of the plaintiff and defendant companies. Marcus Ayres was the appointed receiver and manager of Business Finance Pty Ltd ( Business Finance ) and Andrew Sallway was the liquidator of Partner Invest Pty Ltd ( Partner Invest ).

In a transaction that occurred before the external administrators were appointed, there was a question as to whether Partner Invest had assigned its rights as a lender, mortgagee, and secured party in a particular loan to Business Finance as an equitable assignment for value.

These two companies were related and shared a common director, Frankie McDad. At the time of the loan, Partner Invest was wholly owned by McDad, who was the sole director. In September 2016, Business Finance was incorporated and wholly owned by Partner Invest. The primary business of both companies was to raise funds from private investors to use in providing non-bank business loans which were secured by mortgages, caveats, general security agreements, and personal guarantees. Business Finance and Partner Invest executed an Administrative Services Agreement on 28 September 2016, and accordingly, Partner Invest was involved in administering Business Finance’s loans.

The loan that was the subject of the case was to JML Property Group ( JML ). In 2017, JML borrowed funds from Partner Invest for the purposes of constructing two townhouses and to purchase a sand quarry (the JML Loan ). The security of the loan was first-ranking mortgages in favour of Partner Invest over properties in Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo, and Golden Square. Personal guarantees were also provided by the family members of the sole director and shareholder of JML and further, a security interest was granted by JML over all present and after-acquired property.

In the lead up to settlement, Business Finance transferred $830,000 from their operating account to Partner Invest’s solicitors trust account with the description ‘Buy Loan 652’. These funds were recorded in the trust account statement as received from Partner invest and described as ‘Mortgage – Advance from Partner Invest to JML’.

Intercompany Transfers

As the companies were related, other intercompany transfers did take place. From 27 October 2016, funds were credited to Business Finance’s account from Partner Invest. Mr Sallway reconstructed Partner Invest’s trust accounts, which revealed that at the time of the JML Loan, Business Finance had received $2.7 million from Partner Invest. By August 2018, Partner Invest had transferred $4.25 million and emails from McDad indicated the purpose was to sponsor equity to boost Business Finance’s loan book amount to $34 million.

Equitable Assignment

Mr Ayers submitted on behalf of Business Finance that the JML loan had been equitably assigned by Partner Invest, by reason of the $830,000 transfer from Business Finance. Mr Sallway however, put forward that Mr Ayers evidence was miscellaneous, unsigned correspondence that had been cobbled together.

There was no record of an agreement to assign the loan or show any intention to assign or transfer the JML Loan to Business Finance. However, the records kept by Business Finance and Partner Invest, as noted a number of times by Her Honour, were poor and incomplete. Further, the records kept by Partner Invest’s solicitors were ‘something of a mess.’ [1]

As a purported assignment in equity, the transaction should take the form of and be intended as an immediate transfer of the beneficial interest, distinct from an agreement to assign it. [2] Except where writing is required by the Statute of Frauds , no formality is necessary beyond a clear expression of an intention to make an immediate disposition. The JML Loan is an interest in land, so section 53 of the Property Law Act 1958 (Vic) and section 126 of the Instruments Act 1958 (Vic) were relevant. Section 126 states that an agreement can be evidenced by a memorandum or note of the agreement so long as it is signed by the person to be charged.

In considering the existence of an equitable assignment, Justice Rees asked two questions:

  • Was there a manifestation by Partner Invest of an intention to transfer the equitable interest in the JML Loan and associated security to Business Finance in a manner binding upon itself?
  • Was there a clear expression of an intention to make an immediate disposition?

Based on the transaction documents, Her Honour considered that Partner Invest intended to immediately sell and Business Finance intended to immediately buy the JML loan and associated securities. Although the documents were executed by Partner Invest as lender and mortgagee, when the time came to complete the transaction it was apparent that the loan would be a Business Finance loan and would form part of its portfolio. Partner Invest wanted to support the establishment of Business Finance’s portfolio of loans, which is evidenced by providing funds to Business Finance and transferring loans as sponsor equity.

Justice Rees was less interested in how the companies and Partner Invest’s solicitors recorded the transactions and considered how the parties to the transaction viewed the matter. By doing so, her Honour ordered that on 2 January 2018, by equitable assignment for value, Partner Invest had assigned to Business Finance all of its rights as the lender under the JML Loan. As a result, Business Finance holds an equitable mortgage over the Kangaroo Flat and Bendigo properties and a charge over the property subject to the PPSR.

Key Takeaway

The existence of an equitable assignment for value does not necessarily turn on how the documents record the transaction. Instead, it is important how the parties to the transaction view the matter and whether they would consider that the transfer was for an equitable interest and for immediate disposition.

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Authored by:

Guy Edgecombe, Partner Caitlin Miller, Graduate

[1] Business Finance Pty Ltd (receiver and manager appointed) v Partner Invest Pty Ltd (in liquidation) [2022] NSWSC 1 (7 January 2022) at [5].

[2] Norman v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (1963) 109 CLR 9 at 30–1; [1963] HCA 21.

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Assignments: The Basic Law

The assignment of a right or obligation is a common contractual event under the law and the right to assign (or prohibition against assignments) is found in the majority of agreements, leases and business structural documents created in the United States.

As with many terms commonly used, people are familiar with the term but often are not aware or fully aware of what the terms entail. The concept of assignment of rights and obligations is one of those simple concepts with wide ranging ramifications in the contractual and business context and the law imposes severe restrictions on the validity and effect of assignment in many instances. Clear contractual provisions concerning assignments and rights should be in every document and structure created and this article will outline why such drafting is essential for the creation of appropriate and effective contracts and structures.

The reader should first read the article on Limited Liability Entities in the United States and Contracts since the information in those articles will be assumed in this article.

Basic Definitions and Concepts:

An assignment is the transfer of rights held by one party called the “assignor” to another party called the “assignee.” The legal nature of the assignment and the contractual terms of the agreement between the parties determines some additional rights and liabilities that accompany the assignment. The assignment of rights under a contract usually completely transfers the rights to the assignee to receive the benefits accruing under the contract. Ordinarily, the term assignment is limited to the transfer of rights that are intangible, like contractual rights and rights connected with property. Merchants Service Co. v. Small Claims Court , 35 Cal. 2d 109, 113-114 (Cal. 1950).

An assignment will generally be permitted under the law unless there is an express prohibition against assignment in the underlying contract or lease. Where assignments are permitted, the assignor need not consult the other party to the contract but may merely assign the rights at that time. However, an assignment cannot have any adverse effect on the duties of the other party to the contract, nor can it diminish the chance of the other party receiving complete performance. The assignor normally remains liable unless there is an agreement to the contrary by the other party to the contract.

The effect of a valid assignment is to remove privity between the assignor and the obligor and create privity between the obligor and the assignee. Privity is usually defined as a direct and immediate contractual relationship. See Merchants case above.

Further, for the assignment to be effective in most jurisdictions, it must occur in the present. One does not normally assign a future right; the assignment vests immediate rights and obligations.

No specific language is required to create an assignment so long as the assignor makes clear his/her intent to assign identified contractual rights to the assignee. Since expensive litigation can erupt from ambiguous or vague language, obtaining the correct verbiage is vital. An agreement must manifest the intent to transfer rights and can either be oral or in writing and the rights assigned must be certain.

Note that an assignment of an interest is the transfer of some identifiable property, claim, or right from the assignor to the assignee. The assignment operates to transfer to the assignee all of the rights, title, or interest of the assignor in the thing assigned. A transfer of all rights, title, and interests conveys everything that the assignor owned in the thing assigned and the assignee stands in the shoes of the assignor. Knott v. McDonald’s Corp ., 985 F. Supp. 1222 (N.D. Cal. 1997)

The parties must intend to effectuate an assignment at the time of the transfer, although no particular language or procedure is necessary. As long ago as the case of National Reserve Co. v. Metropolitan Trust Co ., 17 Cal. 2d 827 (Cal. 1941), the court held that in determining what rights or interests pass under an assignment, the intention of the parties as manifested in the instrument is controlling.

The intent of the parties to an assignment is a question of fact to be derived not only from the instrument executed by the parties but also from the surrounding circumstances. When there is no writing to evidence the intention to transfer some identifiable property, claim, or right, it is necessary to scrutinize the surrounding circumstances and parties’ acts to ascertain their intentions. Strosberg v. Brauvin Realty Servs., 295 Ill. App. 3d 17 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1998)

The general rule applicable to assignments of choses in action is that an assignment, unless there is a contract to the contrary, carries with it all securities held by the assignor as collateral to the claim and all rights incidental thereto and vests in the assignee the equitable title to such collateral securities and incidental rights. An unqualified assignment of a contract or chose in action, however, with no indication of the intent of the parties, vests in the assignee the assigned contract or chose and all rights and remedies incidental thereto.

More examples: In Strosberg v. Brauvin Realty Servs ., 295 Ill. App. 3d 17 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1998), the court held that the assignee of a party to a subordination agreement is entitled to the benefits and is subject to the burdens of the agreement. In Florida E. C. R. Co. v. Eno , 99 Fla. 887 (Fla. 1930), the court held that the mere assignment of all sums due in and of itself creates no different or other liability of the owner to the assignee than that which existed from the owner to the assignor.

And note that even though an assignment vests in the assignee all rights, remedies, and contingent benefits which are incidental to the thing assigned, those which are personal to the assignor and for his sole benefit are not assigned. Rasp v. Hidden Valley Lake, Inc ., 519 N.E.2d 153, 158 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988). Thus, if the underlying agreement provides that a service can only be provided to X, X cannot assign that right to Y.

Novation Compared to Assignment:

Although the difference between a novation and an assignment may appear narrow, it is an essential one. “Novation is a act whereby one party transfers all its obligations and benefits under a contract to a third party.” In a novation, a third party successfully substitutes the original party as a party to the contract. “When a contract is novated, the other contracting party must be left in the same position he was in prior to the novation being made.”

A sublease is the transfer when a tenant retains some right of reentry onto the leased premises. However, if the tenant transfers the entire leasehold estate, retaining no right of reentry or other reversionary interest, then the transfer is an assignment. The assignor is normally also removed from liability to the landlord only if the landlord consents or allowed that right in the lease. In a sublease, the original tenant is not released from the obligations of the original lease.

Equitable Assignments:

An equitable assignment is one in which one has a future interest and is not valid at law but valid in a court of equity. In National Bank of Republic v. United Sec. Life Ins. & Trust Co. , 17 App. D.C. 112 (D.C. Cir. 1900), the court held that to constitute an equitable assignment of a chose in action, the following has to occur generally: anything said written or done, in pursuance of an agreement and for valuable consideration, or in consideration of an antecedent debt, to place a chose in action or fund out of the control of the owner, and appropriate it to or in favor of another person, amounts to an equitable assignment. Thus, an agreement, between a debtor and a creditor, that the debt shall be paid out of a specific fund going to the debtor may operate as an equitable assignment.

In Egyptian Navigation Co. v. Baker Invs. Corp. , 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30804 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 14, 2008), the court stated that an equitable assignment occurs under English law when an assignor, with an intent to transfer his/her right to a chose in action, informs the assignee about the right so transferred.

An executory agreement or a declaration of trust are also equitable assignments if unenforceable as assignments by a court of law but enforceable by a court of equity exercising sound discretion according to the circumstances of the case. Since California combines courts of equity and courts of law, the same court would hear arguments as to whether an equitable assignment had occurred. Quite often, such relief is granted to avoid fraud or unjust enrichment.

Note that obtaining an assignment through fraudulent means invalidates the assignment. Fraud destroys the validity of everything into which it enters. It vitiates the most solemn contracts, documents, and even judgments. Walker v. Rich , 79 Cal. App. 139 (Cal. App. 1926). If an assignment is made with the fraudulent intent to delay, hinder, and defraud creditors, then it is void as fraudulent in fact. See our article on Transfers to Defraud Creditors .

But note that the motives that prompted an assignor to make the transfer will be considered as immaterial and will constitute no defense to an action by the assignee, if an assignment is considered as valid in all other respects.

Enforceability of Assignments:

Whether a right under a contract is capable of being transferred is determined by the law of the place where the contract was entered into. The validity and effect of an assignment is determined by the law of the place of assignment. The validity of an assignment of a contractual right is governed by the law of the state with the most significant relationship to the assignment and the parties.

In some jurisdictions, the traditional conflict of laws rules governing assignments has been rejected and the law of the place having the most significant contacts with the assignment applies. In Downs v. American Mut. Liability Ins. Co ., 14 N.Y.2d 266 (N.Y. 1964), a wife and her husband separated and the wife obtained a judgment of separation from the husband in New York. The judgment required the husband to pay a certain yearly sum to the wife. The husband assigned 50 percent of his future salary, wages, and earnings to the wife. The agreement authorized the employer to make such payments to the wife.

After the husband moved from New York, the wife learned that he was employed by an employer in Massachusetts. She sent the proper notice and demanded payment under the agreement. The employer refused and the wife brought an action for enforcement. The court observed that Massachusetts did not prohibit assignment of the husband’s wages. Moreover, Massachusetts law was not controlling because New York had the most significant relationship with the assignment. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of the wife.

Therefore, the validity of an assignment is determined by looking to the law of the forum with the most significant relationship to the assignment itself. To determine the applicable law of assignments, the court must look to the law of the state which is most significantly related to the principal issue before it.

Assignment of Contractual Rights:

Generally, the law allows the assignment of a contractual right unless the substitution of rights would materially change the duty of the obligor, materially increase the burden or risk imposed on the obligor by the contract, materially impair the chance of obtaining return performance, or materially reduce the value of the performance to the obligor. Restat 2d of Contracts, § 317(2)(a). This presumes that the underlying agreement is silent on the right to assign.

If the contract specifically precludes assignment, the contractual right is not assignable. Whether a contract is assignable is a matter of contractual intent and one must look to the language used by the parties to discern that intent.

In the absence of an express provision to the contrary, the rights and duties under a bilateral executory contract that does not involve personal skill, trust, or confidence may be assigned without the consent of the other party. But note that an assignment is invalid if it would materially alter the other party’s duties and responsibilities. Once an assignment is effective, the assignee stands in the shoes of the assignor and assumes all of assignor’s rights. Hence, after a valid assignment, the assignor’s right to performance is extinguished, transferred to assignee, and the assignee possesses the same rights, benefits, and remedies assignor once possessed. Robert Lamb Hart Planners & Architects v. Evergreen, Ltd. , 787 F. Supp. 753 (S.D. Ohio 1992).

On the other hand, an assignee’s right against the obligor is subject to “all of the limitations of the assignor’s right, all defenses thereto, and all set-offs and counterclaims which would have been available against the assignor had there been no assignment, provided that these defenses and set-offs are based on facts existing at the time of the assignment.” See Robert Lamb , case, above.

The power of the contract to restrict assignment is broad. Usually, contractual provisions that restrict assignment of the contract without the consent of the obligor are valid and enforceable, even when there is statutory authorization for the assignment. The restriction of the power to assign is often ineffective unless the restriction is expressly and precisely stated. Anti-assignment clauses are effective only if they contain clear, unambiguous language of prohibition. Anti-assignment clauses protect only the obligor and do not affect the transaction between the assignee and assignor.

Usually, a prohibition against the assignment of a contract does not prevent an assignment of the right to receive payments due, unless circumstances indicate the contrary. Moreover, the contracting parties cannot, by a mere non-assignment provision, prevent the effectual alienation of the right to money which becomes due under the contract.

A contract provision prohibiting or restricting an assignment may be waived, or a party may so act as to be estopped from objecting to the assignment, such as by effectively ratifying the assignment. The power to void an assignment made in violation of an anti-assignment clause may be waived either before or after the assignment. See our article on Contracts.

Noncompete Clauses and Assignments:

Of critical import to most buyers of businesses is the ability to ensure that key employees of the business being purchased cannot start a competing company. Some states strictly limit such clauses, some do allow them. California does restrict noncompete clauses, only allowing them under certain circumstances. A common question in those states that do allow them is whether such rights can be assigned to a new party, such as the buyer of the buyer.

A covenant not to compete, also called a non-competitive clause, is a formal agreement prohibiting one party from performing similar work or business within a designated area for a specified amount of time. This type of clause is generally included in contracts between employer and employee and contracts between buyer and seller of a business.

Many workers sign a covenant not to compete as part of the paperwork required for employment. It may be a separate document similar to a non-disclosure agreement, or buried within a number of other clauses in a contract. A covenant not to compete is generally legal and enforceable, although there are some exceptions and restrictions.

Whenever a company recruits skilled employees, it invests a significant amount of time and training. For example, it often takes years before a research chemist or a design engineer develops a workable knowledge of a company’s product line, including trade secrets and highly sensitive information. Once an employee gains this knowledge and experience, however, all sorts of things can happen. The employee could work for the company until retirement, accept a better offer from a competing company or start up his or her own business.

A covenant not to compete may cover a number of potential issues between employers and former employees. Many companies spend years developing a local base of customers or clients. It is important that this customer base not fall into the hands of local competitors. When an employee signs a covenant not to compete, he or she usually agrees not to use insider knowledge of the company’s customer base to disadvantage the company. The covenant not to compete often defines a broad geographical area considered off-limits to former employees, possibly tens or hundreds of miles.

Another area of concern covered by a covenant not to compete is a potential ‘brain drain’. Some high-level former employees may seek to recruit others from the same company to create new competition. Retention of employees, especially those with unique skills or proprietary knowledge, is vital for most companies, so a covenant not to compete may spell out definite restrictions on the hiring or recruiting of employees.

A covenant not to compete may also define a specific amount of time before a former employee can seek employment in a similar field. Many companies offer a substantial severance package to make sure former employees are financially solvent until the terms of the covenant not to compete have been met.

Because the use of a covenant not to compete can be controversial, a handful of states, including California, have largely banned this type of contractual language. The legal enforcement of these agreements falls on individual states, and many have sided with the employee during arbitration or litigation. A covenant not to compete must be reasonable and specific, with defined time periods and coverage areas. If the agreement gives the company too much power over former employees or is ambiguous, state courts may declare it to be overbroad and therefore unenforceable. In such case, the employee would be free to pursue any employment opportunity, including working for a direct competitor or starting up a new company of his or her own.

It has been held that an employee’s covenant not to compete is assignable where one business is transferred to another, that a merger does not constitute an assignment of a covenant not to compete, and that a covenant not to compete is enforceable by a successor to the employer where the assignment does not create an added burden of employment or other disadvantage to the employee. However, in some states such as Hawaii, it has also been held that a covenant not to compete is not assignable and under various statutes for various reasons that such covenants are not enforceable against an employee by a successor to the employer. Hawaii v. Gannett Pac. Corp. , 99 F. Supp. 2d 1241 (D. Haw. 1999)

It is vital to obtain the relevant law of the applicable state before drafting or attempting to enforce assignment rights in this particular area.


In the current business world of fast changing structures, agreements, employees and projects, the ability to assign rights and obligations is essential to allow flexibility and adjustment to new situations. Conversely, the ability to hold a contracting party into the deal may be essential for the future of a party. Thus, the law of assignments and the restriction on same is a critical aspect of every agreement and every structure. This basic provision is often glanced at by the contracting parties, or scribbled into the deal at the last minute but can easily become the most vital part of the transaction.

As an example, one client of ours came into the office outraged that his co venturer on a sizable exporting agreement, who had excellent connections in Brazil, had elected to pursue another venture instead and assigned the agreement to a party unknown to our client and without the business contacts our client considered vital. When we examined the handwritten agreement our client had drafted in a restaurant in Sao Paolo, we discovered there was no restriction on assignment whatsoever…our client had not even considered that right when drafting the agreement after a full day of work.

One choses who one does business with carefully…to ensure that one’s choice remains the party on the other side of the contract, one must master the ability to negotiate proper assignment provisions.

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equitable assignment trust

Equitable assignment

Practical law uk glossary 2-107-6540  (approx. 3 pages).

  • The assignor can inform the assignee that he transfers a right or rights to him.
  • The assignor can instruct the other party or parties to the agreement to discharge their obligation to the assignee instead of the assignor.
  • General Contract and Boilerplate

Assignment of Choses in Action

Property generally may be realty (real) or personalty (personal). Realty are characterized by geographical fixity(land) while personalty are generally mobile.

Personalty is also classified into tangible/corporeal and intangible/incorporeal. The former is capable of physical handling/possession/manipulation/enjoyment while the latter is incapable of any of these.

Incorporeal property is also called a chose in action which has been defined as a legal expression used to describe all personal rights of property which can only be claimed or enforced by action (in a court) and not by taking physical possession.

A chose generally is a thing capable of being owned. Choses in action may be legal or equitable. Legal choses in action are rights which were enforceable or recoverable only by an action at Common law. This category of choses includes debts, benefits under a contract, insurance policies, copyrights, patents etc.

Equitable choses on the other hand are rights over property which were only enforceable/recoverable/cognizable by the courts of Chancery. It could only be recovered by a suit in Equity and the rights under this category include interests of a beneficiary in a Trust, a legacy/reversionary interest under a will etc.

Choses in action may also be in respect of already existing things/property or things/property to be acquired at a future date but which are not yet in possession. The chose in action may be property in itself and it may also be a propriety right over property.

Assignment is the transfer of something from one person to another such that the assignee obtains rights of a nature that were hitherto exercisable only by the assignor. An assignment of a chose is thus the transfer of a chose in action from the assignor to the assignee such that the assignee obtains and becomes entitled to enjoy rights in respect of that chose, which were hitherto exclusively enjoyed by the assignor.

Assignment may be legal (statutory) or equitable.

Assignment and Novation

An assignment is quite distinct from a novation. Novation is essentially a legal device by which parties to a contract may legally vary/shift their obligations under the contract to third parties. Thus, A can agree with B, his creditor, that C, who owes him money, will pay that debt to B in full satisfaction of his own (A’s) debt.

Novation is however fundamentally different from assignment in three material aspects:

  • The consent of the parties is sine qua non since the original contract is rescinded by the novation. There must thus be consensus ad idem. There can be no novation otherwise. This is contrary to the case in assignment where there only need be communication to the assignee, his consent and that of the trustee of the liability are immaterial.
  • The original debt in novation must be totally extinguished under the new arrangement.

There is no such requirement for assignment to be valid.

  • For novation to be valid, there must be consideration in all cases as it is essentially a new contract. The requirement for consideration in assignment is much more relaxed.

Assignment and Equities

The general rule as regards assignment of choses in action is that an assignee takes, subject to the equities thar already apply to the chose in action (property) in question. Thus, anyone who has an interest (legal or equitable) in an assigned chose is entitled to a higher priority than that of the assignee.

The logic here is based on a recognition that the assignee cannot acquire a better title than that of the assignor. What he essentially gains by virtue of the assignment is a right to continue in the stead of the assignor in respect of that chose and nothing better.

In Re Knapman (1881) 18 Ch. D 300 the beneficiaries of a will brought an action against the executor seeking to revoke the probate. While the matter was in court, these beneficiaries assigned the right under the will to someone else.

Their action subsequently failed in court, the court ruled that the executor had a right to set off the costs of the suit against the estate. As such, since the right to this had already been assigned, the assignee has to settle this cost since he was assigned a property that had a pre-existing liability.

Claims of equities that arise after notice of the assignment has been given to the trustee would not affect the assignee however, except where the claim is very closely related to the original transaction upon which the chose came into existence.

The rule that the assignee takes subject to equities will not apply where the trustee is estopped, either by conduct or deed, from setting up equities against the assignee. It would not also apply where the agreement occasioning the original transaction includes a clause that the assignees of the assignor would take free from all equities.

Historically, assignment of choses in action was largely unrecognized at Common law. There was the fear that allowing such assignment would bring about Maintenance and even cases of Champerty as well as the risk of encouraging a litany of contentious matters on the same res.

Maintenance arises where a person who has no legal interest in a matter provides assistance by money or otherwise to a party to the suit while Champerty marries the foregoing with the prospect of reward out of the possible spoils of the suit.

Thus, no debt could be assigned at Common law unless the debtor specifically agreed to the assignment. The only exceptions allowed by Common law were in respect of choses in action assigned by or to the King and assignment of negotiable instruments in order to promote trade.

Equity has however always recognized the assignment of choses in action, both equitable and legal. It would not however allow the assignment of bare rights without accompanying interest in property. This was to avoid, as in the case of the Common law, situations that encourage Maintenance.


Not all choses in action are assignable. The courts would not give effect to such assignments either on grounds of public policy or on account of the nature of the subject matter of the assignment.

Choses in action that are not assignable include:

  • Salaries of public officials. This is because it is perceived that if allowed to assign their salaries, they may deprive themselves of their means of sustenance and thereby impair the efficiency which is most desirable for the public service.
  • Alimony is not assignable on much the same grounds as salaries of public officials as the money is meant for the maintenance of the spouse.
  • Rights arising out of a contract of a personal nature i.e. contracts that require personal service like employment.
  • Expectancies (future choses) are not assignable at Common law based on the maxim: Nemo dat quod non habet. They are assignable in Equity although, such assignment must be for value.

Equitable Assignment

An equitable assignment is of a flexible nature. This flexibility makes it quite distinct from legal assignments as they do not require all of the formality required under the law. It may be in respect of a legal or equitable chose. Thus, there may be an equitable assignment of an equitable chose or an equitable assignment of a legal chose.

While there is no strict formality required for equitable assignments, certain criteria are instructive as to whether it would be considered valid or not.

For an equitable assignment to be considered as having been effected, there must be a clear intent to assign. While Equity does not require that the assignment be in writing or made in any particular format, there must be a clearly deducible intent to assign on the part of the assignor.

The intent to assign here will be construed from the words used and the particular circumstances of the case. If what is construed is a mere mandate/authority to hold onto certain property, no intent to assign may be ascribed by the court.

The position that Equity does not require writing for equitable assignments has however been affected by S. 9 of the Statute of Frauds and S. 78(1)(c) of the Property and Conveyancing Law which require that the assignment of any equitable interest or trust must be in writing.

The assignment is also required to be communicated to the assignee. Although, the assignee may still take in certain instances even without communication, subject to the right of the assignee to repudiate the transfer when he becomes aware of it.

The particular chose intended to be assigned must be identified. It is insufficient to give a vague representation of what is sought to be assigned. Such vagueness may impair the court’s construction of an intent to assign in such circumstance.

Consideration in equitable assignment depends on the circumstance. Where the assignment is complete in the sense that there is nothing left for the assignor to do to perfect the assignee’s title, there would be no need for consideration.

If it is incomplete though, consideration may be required. Consideration will also be required where the assignment concerns some future chose as the agreement in such instance can only be a contract to assign and all contracts must be backed by consideration.

No consideration is however required for assignment of existing choses.

There is no real requirement for notice of the equitable assignment to be given to the trustee of the liability. Notice is however useful to the extent that it puts the trustee on guard as to the change of rights affecting the chose and may prevent him from settling in favour of the assignor instead of the assignee.

It also makes the trustee liable to the assignee where he settles in favour of the assignor in spite of the notice given to him. Again, while the assignee generally takes subject to any prior equities affecting the chose, giving notice ensures that he would not be affected by any subsequent equities.

Most importantly, notice allows the assignee to establish the priority of his interest in consequence of the rule in DEARLE v HALL.

An equitable assignment of a chose in action has bearing on the manner in which the rights can be enforced in a court of law. The effect here is largely dependent on whether the chose in question is a legal or equitable chose and if the chose was absolutely assigned or not.

Where the assignment concerns a legal chose, the assignee cannot assert his title over the property in his own name. He must join the name of the assignor either as co-plaintiff, where he agrees, or as a defendant. Where the chose is equitable though, the assignee can sue in his own name.

An assignment is absolute when the assignor transfers his whole interest in the chose to the assignee. It is however non-absolute where it is made subject to some condition at the happening of which it would become inoperable or where only a charge is made on the chose, in favour of the assignee.

In this instance, only a part of the assignor’s interest is transferred. The effect of this is that in situations where the transfer was absolute, the assignee would be able to sue in his own name. Where it is not absolute however, he must join the assignor before he can enforce his rights over the chose.

Where the chose is legal though, it is immaterial whether it is absolute or not, the assignee must join the assignor.

Legal Assignment

The Common law rule against assignment of choses in action was only lifted in 1875 and this was via the provision of the Judicature Acts, particularly S. 25(6) . This provision is impari materia with S. 150(1) Property and Conveyancing Law .

The purport of those provisions is that there can be absolute assignments by writing of any debt or other legal thing in action when express notice in writing has been given to the trustee of the liability. Also, it shall be effectual to transfer the legal right to sue in respect of such thing, along with the legal and other remedies in respect of it and the power to give a good discharge for the chose without the assignor’s permission.

The provisions clearly contain ingredients that would make a legal assignment valid and these include the following:

  • The assignment must be in writing and signed by the assignor.
  • It must be in respect of some existing debt or other legal thing in action and this includes equitable choses in action.
  • It must be absolute.
  • There must be an express notice in writing given to the debtor, trustee, or other person from whom the assignor would have been entitled to receive the debt or claim the thing in action.

The assignment takes effect from the date that notice is given. Failure to give notice at all or failure to give it in writing or failure to even execute the writing in the first place will not invalidate the assignment.

Rather, it becomes an equitable assignment instead of a legal one. Further, there is no requirement for consideration here.

The position at Common law before the Act amended it was that the assignee had no right independent of the assignor’s and was obligated to sue in the assignor’s name if he wanted to enforce his rights over the chose.

The Acts have however changed this and the assignee no longer needs to sue in the name of the assignor. He can sue all by himself.

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A river flood warning in effect for Columbia County

School board announces 2 finalists for duval county superintendent, 5 semifinalists previously provided written, video answers to questions from the board.

Brianna Andrews , Reporter, weekend anchor

Kendra Mazeke , Digital Content Producer

Anne Maxwell , I-TEAM and general assignment reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County School Board voted 7-0 to approve two finalists for the Duval County Public Schools superintendent on Tuesday.

The semifinalists -- Dr. Christopher Bernier , Adam Taylor , Dr. Daniel Smith , Dr. Joe Phillips , and Dr. Cheryl Proctor -- had answered questions from the board, some with written answers, others with video responses.

After considering those responses and the candidates’ qualifications, the Board announced Bernier and Smith as finalists in the superintendent search.

Board members Warren Jones and Darryl Willie included Proctor as a candidate they’d also like to see as a finalist.

“If one drops out, then we’re stuck with whether we want to or not, we’re left with one candidate. That was my reasoning for adding three,” Jones said.

“I think she offers a very different lens and experience to look through, and I think she could offer a valuable sort of interview,” Willie said.

But in the end, the board opted to go with just Bernier and Smith in a unanimous vote.

Bernier was the superintendent of Lee County Schools, in the Ft. Myers area, from 2022 until resigning recently as he applied for other jobs. That district has about 100,000 students.

Smith is Chief of Staff at Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, which has a student population of more than 80,000.

Andrea Messina, who is helping the board with the search through the Florida School Boards Association, said Bernier has withdrawn as an applicant in another district to focus on Duval and she’s not aware of Smith being a finalist elsewhere.

Those finalists will be interviewed on May 13 and 14, including a meet and greet event with the community from 6-8 p.m. Monday at EverBank Stadium.

“I think we’re looking for someone who can really take on this challenge and opportunity. I keep saying, there’s a number of challenges that we have, but every challenge comes with a great opportunity,” Willie said after the meeting.

After the meetings, the district plans to select a superintendent at a special board meeting on May 23, and then begin contract negotiations with the chosen candidate.

The contract is slated to be approved at a June 4 meeting, with a projected start date for the new superintendent of July 1.

The Board narrowed the original 20 applicants down to the five semifinalists who applied to replace Dr. Diana Green, who left the role about a year ago .

The district suspended its last search for candidates after about half of the applicants did not meet the minimum qualifications the board wanted to see fulfill the position.

MORE: Duval County School Board set to approve first 5 years of controversial consolidation plan later this year

The district’s minimum qualifications for the job include leadership at the district/cabinet level in a district approaching 25,000 students or more, or current or past experience as a school superintendent.

The semifinalists had until May 1 to submit their responses to various questions addressing issues the district faces such as budgeting, student enrollment and school closures and integrating artificial intelligence into the school system.

The responses were submitted to the Florida School Boards Association, which is assisting the district with the search.

RELATED: How Duval superintendent candidates say they will work to eliminate ‘D’ and ‘F’ schools, address declining enrollment

Here are the written questions they had to answer:

  • Please provide 3 strategies in which you will work with the School Board and School Police Chief to combat increasing acts of misconduct by students and teachers in our schools and school events. This includes gun violence, fights, and inappropriate contact with students and/or teachers.
  • The Duval County Public Schools’ annual budget exceeds two billion dollars. Please describe the work experiences you have had that show your ability to manage a budget of this size. Additionally, please describe your approach to budget forecasts, i.e., factors to be considered, appropriate timelines, etc.
  • Given significant declines in student enrollment in recent years and escalating construction costs, our district is facing school closures to address district budget shortfalls and will also need to revise the “15 Year Facility Plan” funded by our half penny referendum. If selected as our new superintendent, what steps would you take to bring our current district budget into alignment and prioritize projects within the 15-year facility plan? Additionally, how would you incorporate community feedback into your decision-making process?

Here are the video response questions:

  • How will you approach the integration of innovative schooling models and emerging technologies like OpenAI and ChatGPT to enhance in Duval, and what strategies do you envision to adapt to the changing educational landscape while ensuring equitable access for all students?
  • Describe a time you recognized a systematic problem within an organization. What was it and how did you create scalable systems and reorganize the department to improve the flawed process?
  • What is your detailed plan to eliminate all D and F graded schools?
  • Florida is wide open for school choice. What are you going to do to lead DCPS to compete for students?

The district has posted each candidate’s response to the website. Click here to read and watch what they said.

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